Monday, 3 January 2011



Neat little British horror flick - and genuinely creepy in places - from 1963, from the days when we made efficient, economical, unfussy and unpretentious B-movies that knew exactly what they were doing, and did it well. That it takes an old chestnut of a subject - the relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy - and puts some new spin and originality on it, is a bonus and one can only imagine the results if someone were to have a bash at it today. We seem to have lost the knack for making these things.

The Devil Doll of the title isn't actually a devil doll, but Hugo, the surly dummy of the Great Vorelli (William Sylvester), European mesmerist and ventriloquist with a sell-out show in the West End. None of their exchanges on stage are at all funny: they're tense and argumentative and uncomfortable. But what is Vorelli's secret? How can Hugo walk by himself? And what sinister plans does Vorelli have for the society girlfriend (Yvonne Romain) of investigative journalist Bryant Halliday?

If the ending feels a little rushed, it doesn't really matter: it's a creepy little film with some good twists and a neatly unnerving final scene. Devil Doll was made by Lindsay Shonteff who directed quite a few low-budget British thrillers, spy spoofs and action movies (which really should be more widely seen - only one other film of his, Permissive, has been released on British DVD), as well as one of the early features shot entirely on videotape, the post-apocalypse drama/thriller The Killing Edge. Devil Doll may not be a genuine great, but it is pretty enjoyable and it's certainly worth a watch.


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